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Tequila: Barrels, Blue Agave, and Bats
Tequila is the centerpiece of most Mexican drink menus. Discover its hidden depths with Groupon’s exploration of tequila beyond the margarita.
Tequila is often downed in a shot or masked by fruit in a margarita, but it can be as complex and sippable as any fine bourbon. Its interplay of smoky flavors begins in the heart of a rather unfriendly looking plant: the blue agave, a spiky-leaved succulent that can grow to more than 7 feet high and is pollinated by long-nosed bats. Its sugary, 80- to 300-pound heart is known as a piña, and it resembles a monster pineapple when unearthed. Agave farmers—called jimadores, a word that lends its name to the popular El Jimador brand—harvest the plant when it’s 8–12 years old.
After the heart has been mashed into pulp, the juice is ready to be fermented and distilled (sometimes with as much as 49% added grain spirits, which will be noted on the label). Silver or blanco tequila goes straight into the bottle, making for an intense drinking experience. Reposado, or “relaxed,” tequilas have enjoyed at least a two-month stint in oak barrels, and añejo tequilas age for at least one year. The “extra añejo” label denotes a three-year aging process. These older and mellower tequilas are usually sipped on their own, as cocktail recipes may trample their subtle, smooth-caramel flavors. Along with the flavors produced by the oak and the chemical reactions that unfold over time, some tequilas take on additional complexities from being aged in barrels previously used for whiskey, wine, or sherry.